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Despite Stigma, Nigerian Parents Demand Justice in Child Sex Cases

All are new cases of suspected child abuse, according to Dr. Musa Shuaibu, a pediatrician

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Child Sex Cases
Mercy Philip (left) with her 8-year-old daughter (right in white) meet with a lawyer in northern Nigeria. VOA
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Mercy Philip will never forget January 12, 2017.

That’s the day she says her 8-year-old daughter walked up to her and asked if she could wash her panties.

Philip asked her daughter why she needed to wash her panties and her daughter said a male neighbor had “climbed on her body” and then told her to wash her panties afterward.

The mother immediately took her daughter to a clinic. And on the same day, Philip and her husband went to the police. The neighbor, who was arrested based on the medical report, was released from jail and is awaiting trial.

ALSO READ: Number of Girls born alive for every 1,000 Boys declined over last 65 years from 946 to 887

Yet the family’s life has been upended.

They have been ridiculed by people in the community, pressured to drop the charges, and condemned for “trying to ruin a man’s life,” Philip said. When her daughter goes outside, people stare, laugh or throw stones at her, the mother said.

Social stigma

The shame and social stigma attached to sexual abuse stop most families in Nigeria from seeking justice. They usually end up settling cases of child sex abuse through cash payments often quietly negotiated by religious leaders.

“To settle means to forget about it … let sleeping dogs lie,” said Bukola Ajao, the Philips’ lawyer. “Please, we are sorry, but this kind of matter is not something that you just apologize for.”

The most recent data available on child sex abuse in Nigeria is from 2014. That study — from Nigeria’s National Population Commission, the U.N. Children’s Fund and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — revealed that 1-in-4 girls and 1-in-10 boys in Nigeria experience sexual violence before the age of 18.

child sex cases
Doctors at Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital at Kaduna State University say they see abused children on a daily basis. VOA

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The Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital at Kaduna State University in the Kaduna state capital handles requests to provide evidence for suspected child sex abuse. At the time VOA visited the hospital, in the space of 30 minutes, more than five women with children had entered the ward.

All are new cases of suspected child abuse, according to Dr. Musa Shuaibu, a pediatrician.

“Nearly on a daily basis, there would be one form of abuse or the other. And that is quite alarming in view of the fact that quite a negligible fraction, actually get reported to the hospital,” Shuaibu said.

Activists seek new law

Activists are lobbying Kaduna state to approve the federal Child Rights Act of 2003 that mandates a 14-year jail sentence for a child sex abuse conviction and life imprisonment for rape. Eleven states in the north, including Kaduna, have not ratified it. Instead, those states rely on Sharia courts and a colonial-era penal code to prosecute child sex abuse.

Kaduna State Minister of Women and Social Development Hajia Hafsatu Mohammed Baba told VOA the state government is committed to passing it. But the Supreme Sharia Council has said that the federal statute is a Western import and an attempt to restrict Sharia courts.

Meanwhile, families are often left with only difficult choices.

“You know how things are around here. Things like this can never be buried,” said Asabe Musa, whose daughter was molested when she was 5 years old. “This is the kind of story that goes around … maybe when the girl does find someone to marry, someone will go and tell his family what happened to her.”

After hearing about the abuse, relatives of Musa’s husband, who live in northern Nigeria, traveled to Kaduna to speak with Musa about settling the case. Afterwards, they took the child with them, hoping that she would be less stigmatized in a community where she is unknown.

Musa, whose face is lined with sorrow, said she wants her daughter back.

Few go to court

At one orphanage in the center of town, children dance around together in a circle. A slender young woman clenches the hand of her little girl. The woman, who asked to be identified as Ladi, said she can’t go to court as it was her father who raped her young daughter.

“My daughter was covered in blood. I picked her up and just stood there. He was someone I had always respected, so I didn’t say anything to him. I picked her up and went to town with her in the morning,” she said.

She has been running ever since. Going back to her village is not an option, she said, as her father is a chief there.

For the past decade, Hauwa Hassan, the owner, and manager of the orphanage has worked with about 20 families dealing with child sex abuse. She says only three of them took her advice to go to court. Those cases were never concluded.

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child sex cases
A fruit seller is serving a 3-year jail sentence for luring this 7-year-old orphan into his shop and sexually abusing him. VOA

One 7-year-old orphan said he was walking to school when an old fruit seller offered a pear to lure the boy into the back of his shop. The abuse went on until the boy complained to his uncle about pains in his body.

“When it happened, the first thing we did has we stopped him from going out and even from school and kept him at home,” the boy’s uncle, Anas Umar, said, blinking hard to stop the tears.

“I wrote the police statement myself. A lot of my friends first suggested we all go and beat him up, but I didn’t because of what could follow. I can’t take the law into my own hands… I can’t just go and take his sins upon myself,” he added. “Other people were telling me to just leave the matter because the man is too old, but what he did was serious…The judgment passed was not enough, but still, I thank God there was some sort of judgment.”

The court found the fruit seller guilty under a colonial-era sodomy law. He couldn’t pay the 80,000 naira — about $200 — fine so he is serving a 3-year jail sentence.

“That is what he deserved. That will scare others like him,” Umar said. “The judgment passed was not enough but still, I thank God there was some sort of judgment.” (VOA)

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Nigerian Firm Apologizes for Google’s Glitch

Main One, which describes itself as a leading provider of telecom and network services for businesses in West Africa, said that it had investigated the matter.

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Google, Main One
A Google logo is seen at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, VOA

Nigeria’s Main One Cable took responsibility Tuesday for a glitch that temporarily caused some Google global traffic to be misrouted through China, saying it accidentally caused the problem during a network
upgrade.

The issue surfaced Monday afternoon as internet monitoring firms ThousandEyes and BGPmon said some traffic to Alphabet’s Google had been routed through China and Russia, raising concerns that the communications had been intentionally hijacked.

Main One said in an email that it had caused a 74-minute glitch by misconfiguring a border gateway protocol filter used to route traffic across the internet. That resulted in some Google traffic being sent through Main One partner China Telecom, the West African firm said.

Google has said little about the matter. It acknowledged the problem Monday in a post on its website that said it was investigating the glitch and that it believed the problem originated outside the company. The company did not say how many users were affected or identify specific customers.

Google, Main One
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during a news conference in New Delhi. VOA

Google representatives could not be reached Tuesday to comment on Main One’s statement.

Hacking concerns

Even though Main One said it was to blame, some security experts said the incident highlighted concerns about the potential for hackers to conduct espionage or disrupt communications by exploiting known vulnerabilities in the way traffic is routed over the internet.

The U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission, a Washington group that advises the U.S. Congress on security issues, plans to investigate the issue, said Commissioner Michael Wessel.

“We will work to gain more facts about what has happened recently and look at what legal tools or legislation or law enforcement activities can help address this problem,” Wessel said.

Google, Main One, YouTube, Google, google services
A Google logo is displayed at the entrance to the internet based company’s offices in Toronto. VOA

Glitches in border gateway protocol filters have caused multiple outages to date, including cases in which traffic from U.S. internet and financial services firms was routed through Russia, China and Belarus.

Yuval Shavitt, a network security researcher at Tel Aviv University, said it was possible that Monday’s issue was not an accident.

Also Read: Google Investigating The Root Cause Of its Malfunction

“You can always claim that this is some kind of configuration error,” said Shavitt, who last month co-authored a paper alleging that the Chinese government had conducted a series of internet hijacks.

Main One, which describes itself as a leading provider of telecom and network services for businesses in West Africa, said that it had investigated the matter and implemented new processes to prevent it from happening again. (VOA)